UCONN-Notre Dame: How Far Should UConn Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built?

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Last week, UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway provided a public acknowledgement of one of the worst kept secrets in Connecticut sports: UConn is engaged in discussions with Notre Dame to play a series of 10 or 11 football games.  To most UConn fans, the initial announcement caused great excitement.  In the last 7 years, UConn obtained Division I-A status, moved into a new stadium,  played in 2 bowl games (Motor City and Meineke Care Car Bowls) and has even produced a few NFL players (Dan Orlovsky, Alfred Fincher and Deon Anderson).   Now, UConn is on the verge of landing a series with arguably the most storied collegiate football program in the country. 

Notre Dame, however, insists upon a minor condition before agreeing to a series with UConn.  UConn is more than welcome to play in South Bend, in the shadow of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus; but Notre Dame will not visit Rentscher Field and the packed house that would have awaited the Fighting Irish.  Under the proposed agreement, UConn could play their home games at either Gillette Stadium or the new Giants Stadium.  Notre Dame, over the course of a 10 or 11 game series will not visit Connecticut for a single game.  Upon hearing this news, the excitement of UConn fans quickly faded. 

In response to fan unrest (and perhaps political posturing), State Senator Gary Lebeau, D-East Hartford, drafted House Bill 5878, which would prohibit any UConn home football games to be played out of state.  The purpose of the bill, according to LeBeau, was to force Hathaway to  appear before the General Assembly and explain why UConn would enter into such a seemingly one-sided agreement.  Hathaway appeared before the General Assembly and defended the proposed series on the basis that it was worthwhile for recruiting and public relations. 

 Some thoughts on the situation:

  1. Why Notre Dame?  When asked to describe the mystique of Notre Dame, Lou Holtz once replied: “If you were there, no explanation is necessary.  If you weren’t, no explanation is satisfactory.”  “Wins, Losses and Lessons,” Lou Holtz.  Whether or not you agree with Holtz’s assessment that Notre Dame is a special place, it is without a doubt unique in the world of collegiate football.  Notre Dame’s television contract with NBC, independent status and broad fan base are without compare.  In addition, there is a key difference between playing Notre Dame and another top program – UConn has a very good chance of actually beating Notre Dame.  Obviously a series with a program such as USC would be much less appealing, as UConn would likely have a tough time competing.  Not only would UConn have a legitimate chance to beat Notre Dame, but it would be playing on national television, providing a great recruiting tool for football players, other athletes and regular students. 
  2. What about the fans?  A Notre Dame series is bad for the fans, no doubt about it.  Fans will be forced to travel to Foxboro or the swamps of Jersey to see UConn play a “home” game.  Notre Dame fans would likely equal or outnumber UConn fans at either venue.  Ticket prices are sure to increase for these games.   It appears that UConn has weighed the recruiting and public relations benefits against the unhappiness of the fans – recruiting and public relations prevailed.
  3. The Bob Kraft Factor:  Members of the General Assembly appear particularly upset by the possibility of UConn being forced to rent Gillette Stadium from Robert Kraft, who famously (at least in Hartford) reneged on his promise to move the Patriots to Hartford when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts did not satisfying his demands in connection with the construction of a new stadium.  Ultimately, Kraft worked out his differences with the Commonwealth and the Partriots stayed put.

The General Assembly’s intervention is interesting on a number of levels.  First, it presents a somewhat awkward situation with the althletic department being second-guessed by the legislature.  Second, if the bill progressed it would be interesting to ascertain the economic ramifications for Connecticut and the City of East Hartford, if it were to lose 5 home games over the course of 10 years.  Third, if the bill passed, it might empower other legislators to meddle in the affairs of UConn athletics leading to a potentially uneasy existence between the General Assembly and the UConn athletic department.

Comments

  1. Great deal for UCONN, but terrible for the State. I agree with the exposure benefits for the student athletes and the program, but what message will we be sending about the State to a national audience? Do we really need to invite the discussions that the beloved Huskies have outgrown Connecticut. Like the Whalers and Patriots, this deal seems posed to deliver yet another black-eye to Connecticut sports. I applaud the legislature for blowing the whistle on this. Maybe a one game exhibition would be okay, but a series of 5 “home” games away from Rentschler is ridiculous.

    As mentioned in the post, the UCONN athletic program is not only a source of pride, but also a major revenue generator. If we allocate CT tax dollars to build and support UCONN, why should we export the benefits which stream from that to NY or NJ?

  2. I would like to think that UConn could leverage 1 home game. Ten years is a long commitment and ND could through something our way – is one home game at the rent in year 9 or 10 asking too much?

  3. Scott M says:

    Playing ND in football makes sense. UCONN already has a great rivalry with ND in Men’s and Women’s basketball but not playing 1 single game in East Hartford is ridiculous. I agree with ‘pingel’ that a one time exhibition game in NY or NJ would be acceptable but no more. The revenue and excitement generated by ND coming to the Rentschler field would be awesome. I truly hope Jeff Hathaway can broker some type of deal with ND as playing the Irish home or away is a coup for our young Huskies football program.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] Notre Dame in a recent column.  Connecticut Sports Law first discussed this issue in the article UConn-Notre Dame: How Far Should UConn Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built, and Jacobs offers some new […]

  2. […] UConn-Notre Dame: How Far Should Notre Dame Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built? […]

  3. […] Jim Calhoun and the Flutie Effect This week UConn’s Jim Calhoun became only the seventh coach in Division I basketball history to win 800 games.  Nevertheless, people around the state, and the country, continue to discuss Coach Calhoun’s clash with a reporter during a post-game press conference last Saturday night.  In fact, some members of the Connecticut General Assembly have demanded that Calhoun be reprimanded (an example of political opportunism which demonstrates that the General Assembly hasn’t learned to stay out of the athletic arena since last year’s involvement in negotiations between UConn and Notre Dame). […]

  4. […] wrote about the football series between UConn and Notre Dame.  The title of the article was “How Far Should UConn Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built?”  And that very same issue persists today – with no games to be played in Connecticut, is […]

  5. […] I wrote my first article about the possibility of a football series between UConn and Notre Dame, UCONN-Notre Dame: How Far Should UConn Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built?.  At that time, details of the contract negotiations between the universities became public and […]

  6. […] UConn-Notre Dame: How Far Should Notre Dame Go to Play in the House that Rockne Built? […]

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